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Justices: Ex-wife must agree to lower sales price

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The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously held that a trial court had no authority to modify a property agreement made by ex-spouses and that the ex-wife is entitled by law to refuse to waive a provision that neither party had to accept a sale that was below specified minimums.

When Sean and Dee Anna Ryan divorced in 2008, they agreed to sell a property they had in Granger and a lake house in Michigan. Until the properties sold, Sean Ryan would pay 75 percent of the mortgages; Dee Anna Ryan would pay the remainder. In the agreement, the two could “bind” each other to accept a purchase price as long as the “resulting net proceeds” equaled at least $1.1 million on the Granger house and at least $300,000 on the lake house.

For two years, the properties hadn’t sold, so Sean Ryan sought a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 60(B)(8) so that the court could order that the properties will be sold at the prevailing fair market value and he could accept a price lower than stated in the agreement without his ex-wife’s consent.

The trial court denied the request, but the Court of Appeals ordered the court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion.

The justices agreed with the trial court that it didn’t have authority to modify the property-distribution agreement without Dee Anna Ryan’s consent. The agreement was incorporated and merged into the divorce decree and did not provide for, nor did the parties consent to, modification, Justice Frank Sullivan wrote.

A court can have authority to resolve a dispute over the interpretation of a settlement agreement or property-division order, he noted, and the court’s task would be one of contract interpretation.

In the instant case, the justices found that the Ryans’ agreement as to the disposition of their properties is unambiguous. As a matter of contract law, Dee Anna is bound to agree to the sales prices for the properties that would produce net proceeds less than those stated in the agreement.

“We conclude by saying that, in writing this opinion, we have been struck by the recurrence of several fact patterns that have been avoidably problematic – the use of specific dollar amounts rather than percentages, the failure of a QDRO’s terms to conform to ERISA requirements, the failure to provide a contingency if the marital residence cannot be sold – and trust that practitioners and judges alike will contemplate them in their work as well,” Sullivan wrote.

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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

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